Across the country, ski resorts are hoping an El Niño winter will blanket their slopes with powder. The first part of the season brought lots of snow in the West, including western Canada, but ski areas in the East have not fared as well so far.
In preparation for the ski season, many resorts amplified their snow-making capabilities and diversified entertainment and recreation options, from learning to drive a snowcat to visiting an art museum to bike racing.
On-slope expansions. The biggest news out of ski country pertains, naturally, to size. Vail Resorts, having purchased Park City Mountain Resort in Park City, Utah, married it to the company’s neighboring Canyons Resort in December with a new gondola and unified lift ticket. The resulting 7,300-skiable-acre resort is the biggest in the country, and the $50 million expansion includes a 500-seat restaurant at the Park City base.
▪ Big Sky Resort in Montana, which just lost its title as the nation’s biggest ski area, introduced three runs at the beginner and intermediate levels that are gladed, with trees for weaving in and out. Similarly, Homewood Mountain Resort on the west coast of Lake Tahoe in California is adding 750 acres of glades, accessible to groups of no more than 10 skiers.
▪ Celebrating its 50th anniversary, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Wyoming opened the Teton Lift in December. The new high-speed quad offers access to at least 100 acres that previously required skiers to hike in.
▪ Back in Utah, the high-end Deer Valley Resort has acquired nearby Solitude Mountain Resort, replacing a central two-person chair with a high-speed four-person model that will boost access to backcountry-like Honeycomb Canyon.
New thrills: In Alaska, Tordrillo North is offering new heli-ski and snowboard access from Winterlake Lodge, about 200 miles north of Anchorage. Five-passenger Eurocopter A-star helicopters will fly to more than 1 million skiable acres in the Tordrillo Mountains of south-central Alaska, Feb. 28 to April 23.
▪ Utah Olympic Park’s new Park City Ski Mountaineering Team expands the events at the Park City location to include ski mountaineering, or “SkiMo,” a timed racecourse that combines Alpine, telemark and Nordic skiing.
Deals: MAX Pass, or Multi-Alpine Experience ski pass, which allows up to five days of skiing at each member property, has expanded to 22 resorts in North America this year. The rival Mountain Collective pass now includes Stowe, Vermont; Sun Valley, Idaho; and Taos, New Mexico.
▪ About 35 miles north of Salt Lake City, Ogden is making a pitch for weekend traffic with a new Ski3 Pass, which offers full-day lift tickets at Powder Mountain, Snowbasin Resort and Nordic Valley Resort for $139 to guests of participating hotels.
▪ Children are the focus of many deals, including Ski Utah’s new Fifth and Sixth Grade Passports Program offering children nationwide free lift tickets at 14 participating resorts. And Aspen Snowmass is lowering rates for teenagers to match those of children 12 and under.
Non-ski diversions: Tired of skiing? Try driving a snowcat. Guests of Aspen Skiing Co.’s hotels can sign up for Snowcat Academy to learn to drive one at Buttermilk Mountain in three-hour excursions with one-on-one instruction. Or ride a snowcat at Devil’s Thumb Ranch near Denver for a happy hour tour with a stop at a yurt for drinks.
▪ Snowbiking continues to grow in the mountains, and Crested Butte, Colorado, will host the first Fat Bike World Championships, Jan. 27-31. Other resorts are adding trails for the inflated-tire winter bikes, including the Gold Run Nordic Center in Breckenridge, Colorado, which is opening 16 miles of trails to cyclists.
▪ Off the slopes, the new Cooking School of Aspen, opening in February, will offer a variety of classes, both participatory and demonstration, as well as special dinners. And Whistler, British Columbia, will get its first fine art museum when the Audain Art Museum opens in March with a collection featuring First Nations masks and paintings by the artist Emily Carr.
Wellness on High: From free pre-ski yoga classes at Sierra-at-Tahoe resort in California to altitude adjusting remedies provided by a concierge at the St. Regis Aspen Resort, wellness offerings have flourished. The Viceroy Snowmass near Aspen will introduce ski-in/ski-out spa treatments this season. These midday massages run 30 minutes or less and aim to address tight muscles during a lunch break. To speed your return to the slopes, the spa will also serve lunch.
▪ In Whistler, the Scandinave Spa, a Nordic spa featuring outdoor soaking pools, has a new 4,144-square-foot building housing a steam room, sauna and yoga studio overlooking the mountains.
▪ Guests of the Arrabelle at Vail Square, a RockResort in Vail, can dial up serenity from room service via a new spa menu featuring a DIY face mask, body scrub and bath salts.
Splurges Abound: While skiing is rarely cheap, resorts have dreamed up inventive new ways to entice visitors to splurge more. At Anthony Lakes Mountain Resort in eastern Oregon, skiers can pay $4,000 and invite 50 friends to “own the mountain” for the day.
▪ Beaver Creek Resort will introduce its White Carpet Club near the central lifts, a concierge-staffed club with lockers, boot dryers, restrooms and refreshments for $450 for three days. Nearby, the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek is introducing a heli-ski package that includes a helicopter drop in the San Juan Mountains for a guided day of skiing and four nights’ accommodation from $12,000.
▪ In Utah, Waldorf Astoria Park City is offering the opportunity to ski with Nate Roberts, a former Olympic freestyle skier. The package includes two nights’ lodging, dinner and a massage from $3,600.
▪ Specialty ski schools: Ski schools thrive on general group lessons, but many increasingly offer more specific sessions. At Kirkwood south of Lake Tahoe, the new E:K Discovery Series features three sessions designed to teach intermediate and advanced skiers to navigate cornices, bowls and chutes.
▪ The four-day backcountry camp offered by the Four Seasons Jackson Hole teaches avalanche awareness and terrain selection with a mix of touring and classroom instruction.
▪ In Colorado, Telluride Ski Resort is offering a variety of special programs, from a biomechanics camp led by an orthopedic surgeon and designed to minimize stress on the body, to Silver Skiers, a program for athletes 50 years and up.